A long but rewarding read from E.J. Dionne [first published in the journal Democracy but re-published by The Atlantic on the intellectual state-of-the-nation of U.S. conservatives. Notable from Canadian eyes in this sense: The “reformicons” Dionne described as “heretics” in the U.S. Republican movement — people like like David Frum, Bruce Bartlett and Ross Douthat — appear to be advocating for a conservativism in the U.S. that, to my eyes, rather resembles the conservatism of the Conservative Party of Canada. And so, just as the Conservative Party of Canada may serve as a possible inspiration for the Republicans, so too could today’s Republican Party serve as a king of warning for Canadian Conservatives should it fail lower- and middle-income households [a recent report from the Parliamentary Budget Officer noted that under the Harper government’s tax cuts have helped “Low and middle income earners [benefit] more, in relative terms, than higher income earners.”) have been and be seen as ignoring the problem of economic inequality in our society.
Some excerpts from the Dionne piece:
Today’s right is a much gloomier movement more inclined to condemn heretics than to seek out converts…
[U.S.] Conservatism has also been deformed by flights of irrationality about Barack Obama, egged on by Frum’s conservative entertainment complex. The Reformicons are not the authors of the attacks on Obama as a socialist, a “Muslim,” a “Kenyan anti-colonialist,” or the bearer of a false birth certificate. Yet those who do launch such attacks have power in the Republican Party and their nasty inventions require much stronger resistance from a serious conservative intellectual movement.
There are areas where progressives and the Reformicons might find common ground, sentencing reform being one of them. But the two sides are still some distance from shared premises. The conservatives are not wrong to point to family dissolution as a genuine problem for low-income Americans. But progressives would lay heavy stress on how economic insecurity (and the mass incarceration of African Americans) has placed unbearable pressures on families even as workplace practices placing market concerns ahead of family life complicate the task of balancing work and family. To the extent that conservatives focus on family breakdown as the primary cause of poverty and avoid examining how poverty causes family breakdown, what could be a useful shared quest for sensible and compassionate policies will be reduced to another shouting match about culture and values.
Reformicons, who are diverse in their views on social issues, need to be bolder in approaching cultural modernization. To have a future, conservatism cannot view an increasingly diverse and tolerant America as a horror. A Burkean traditionalism honors the gifts diverse communities bring to a nation.